We Know Our Rights Thanks to Mason

By Butters, Patrick | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

We Know Our Rights Thanks to Mason


Butters, Patrick, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights . . . namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty . . . and pursuing happiness and safety.

- George Mason, Virginia

Declaration of Rights

Gun owners and free-speech advocates alike would be mum without the Bill of Rights. Yet few know that a Colonial planter - George Mason, the portly, pushy delegate from Virginia - came up with the idea.

"I think that's the fate of anyone who works in history and doesn't work for Mount Vernon or Monticello," says Susan Borchardt, laughing heartily.

She's the deputy director of collections at Gunston Hall, Mason's home near Lorton. "I worked at Carlyle House in Alexandria before, and everyone says the same thing about [Scottish merchant] John Carlyle."

Ringing in the 245-year-old home's 50th anniversary as a historic site this year, staffers at Gunston Hall easily extol the magic of Mason. As a Virginia delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, big George refused to sign the Constitution because the document had no bill of rights, gave too much power to the federal government and was hypocritical about slave importation.

Known even by his family as a man who would lose himself in his thoughts (and his gardens) while strolling about his 5,000-acre estate, Mason had pondered and penned over those issues before.

He wrote Virginia's Declaration of Rights, a colossal proposal for its time, in May 1776. Its credibility was enhanced because Mason was known among fellow Virginians as the best expert on republic-style government.

"The far-less-known Virginia Bill of Rights is one of the most influential documents ever written," writes historian Page Smith, "entirely worthy of a place beside the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence."

Mason was the first to call for jury trials, elections and freedom of press and religion. The state Bill of Rights was used as a model for the U.S. Bill of Rights, France's 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"What makes him really relevant," Ms. Borchardt says, is the way "his basic writing speaks to us all. . . . " The words " `all men are created equally free and independent,' really have changed with each generation," she says, "and they've expanded so that we now look at all of society being equal. When he wrote those words, of course, that wasn't true. You had to be male, 21, white, a property owner."

Indeed, Mason did not free his 90 slaves. The "conflicted conscience" defense is bandied about for him as it is for Washington, Madison and Jefferson, also considered liberal for their time.

To his credit, however, Mason was the most vocal, especially at the Constitutional Convention. He called every master "a petty tyrant" and warned of "the judgment of heaven" if the "infernal" slave trafficking did not cease.

Mason's refusal to sign the Constitution hurt his reputation, but he didn't care. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

We Know Our Rights Thanks to Mason
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.